Search Results for "dualism"

May 17 2012

What Is Consciousness? Another Reply to Kastrup

Published by under Neuroscience

I hadn’t planned for this topic to take over my blog this week, but it happens. Judging by the comments there is significant interest in the issue of consciousness, and Kastrup and I are just getting to the real nub of the argument. So here is another installment – a reply to Kastrup’s latest offering. First, however, some background.

Materialism, Dualism, and Idealism

Philosophers of mind, such as David Chalmers, now recognize three general approaches to the question – what is consciousness? Materialism is the view that the mind is what the brain does. This is often stated as the mind is caused by the brain. Some commenters took exception to this phrase, saying it implies a dualist position, that the mind is its own thing,  but I disagree. The brain is the physical substance, while the mind or consciousness is a process that emerges from the brain. A dead or deeply comatose brain has no mind, so they are manifestly not the same thing. Language here is a bit imprecise, but I think the phrase – the brain causes the mind – is an acceptable short hand for the materialist position.

Dualism is the position that consciousness is something separate from the brain and not entirely caused by it. It may be a separate property of the universe (property dualism) or be something beyond the confines of our material universe. Whatever it is, it does not reduce to the firing of neurons in the brain, which cannot, in the opinion of dualists, explain subjective experience.

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187 responses so far

May 16 2012

Kastrup Responds

Published by under Neuroscience

Yesterday I wrote a reply to a science blogger, Bernardo Kastrup, who wrote a critique of an earlier blog post of mine. He has now written a reply to my reply. I find these blog discussions very useful – each side can take their time to compose their argument and we can usually get down to the key issues.  They can also be fun.

Kastrup begins, unfortunately, with a bit of whining.

While I appreciate his having taken the time to reply, I am also somewhat surprised by the sheer amount of space he dedicates to ad homenen attacks on me, which dilutes his argument and the quality of the debate.

Sure, I got a bit snarky in my reply, but I will point out that my criticisms were all valid. Also my two sharpest barbs were direct quotes from Kastrup against me. It’s bad form, in my opinion, to open up a debate with personal attacks and then whine when you get the exact same thing back.  But fine – let’s get past that and focus on the substance of the discussion. His next point, however, is also about form. He writes:

This is correct. So let me take the opportunity to be explicit: I only read the post that was forwarded to me, and my comments were based on that alone. If Novella’s position in other posts was more nuanced, I’ve missed that, since I do not know Novella’s work.

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93 responses so far

May 15 2012

Another Blogger Jumps Into the Dualism Fray

Published by under Neuroscience

It has been a while since I wrote about dualism – the notion that the mind is something more than the functioning of the brain. Previously I had a blog duel about dualism with creationist neurosurgeon, Michael Egnor. Now someone else has jumped into that discussion: blogger, author, and computer engineer Bernardo Kastrup has taken me on directly. The result is a confused and poorly argued piece all too typical of metaphysical apologists.

Kastrup’s major malfunction is to create a straw man of my position and then proceed to argue against that. He so blatantly misrepresents my position, in fact, that I have to wonder if he has serious problems with reading comprehension or is just so blinkered by his ideology that he cannot think straight (of course, these options are not mutually exclusive). I further think that he probably just read one blog post in the long chain of my posts about dualism and so did not make a sufficient effort to actually understand my position.

Kastrup is responding specifically to this blog post by me, a response to one by Egnor. Kastrups begins with this summary:

I found it to contain a mildly interesting but otherwise trite, superficial, and fallacious argument. Novella’s main point seems to be that correlation suffices to establish causation. He claims that Egnor denies that neuroscience has found sufficient correlation between brain states and mind states because subjective mind states cannot be measured.

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44 responses so far

Aug 09 2011

Still More Misdirection and Illogic from Egnor

Michael Egnor has responded to my prior post in which I outlined his numerous failings in logic and misrepresentations of neuroscience. His response continues to be incoherent, but does offer some further teaching points.

One of the main points of contention is this – what can we infer from the relationship between damage to the brain and resulting neurological signs and symptoms. My position is that, if the mind is entirely caused by the functioning of the brain, then damage to the brain will damage the mind. I maintain that this is true, as far as we can tell from our current technology and understanding of neuroscience.

Egnor maintains that this is not true – that the relationship is “not the least bit predictable.” Further, that this lack of total correlation is evidence for dualism, that the mind is produced, at least in part, by something immaterial. There are both factual and logical problems with his position. To my criticism of his claims, he writes:

Mental deficits – specific defects in reasoning, judgement, planning, memory– are highly variable. One cannot look at a CT scan done after a head injury and predict with any certainty that ‘this person will have an inability to remember numbers’. High level mental function localizes very poorly to specific brain regions. This is odd, if, as Novella claims, the material brain is entirely the cause of all mental function.

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186 responses so far

Aug 05 2011

The Motivated Reasoning of Egnorance

Published by under Neuroscience

If you want to see many examples of motivated reasoning, pay a visit to Michael Egnor’s blog, Egnorance. He’s the evolution-denying neurosurgeon that I have sparred with over the last few years, mostly about evolution and dualism. Motivated reasoning is what most people do most of the time – start with a desired conclusion and then find reasons to support it (humans are very good at that). However, the whole point of philosophy is to rise above this tendency and follow strict rules of logic, while the point of science is similar but also to follow the evidence. Egnor can’t seem to do either, as he rants against non-believers, misinterprets study after study, and attacks those who do not share his particular faith.

A few weeks ago he wrote a response to a blog post of mine about materialism. This is familiar ground, but he does nicely reveal his tactics in the article so I thought I should eventually respond. He starts by misrepresenting the very topic of the discussion:

He put together six assertions that he claims are proven scientifically and thus prove his theory that the mind is caused entirely by the brain.

The materialist theory of mind is not my theory – it is the overwhelming consensus of neuroscientists and the result of over a century of research. But Egnor would have his readers believe it is my own quirky “bizarre” theory. This is, of course, nonsense. It is Egnor who is out on the fringe of neuroscience with his antiquated dualist beliefs. But far more important are the actual arguments themselves (I make this point mainly to demonstrate how Egnor constantly rewrites reality).

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175 responses so far

Feb 25 2009

Egnor Sinks to New Lows

Published by under Evolution

This is low, even for Dr. Michael Egnor, who has been an active apologist for the nonsensical anti-evolution propaganda over at the Discovery Institute. Egnor cannot seem to resist when he thinks he has caught someone in an error, and so he throws whatever faint whisper of logic or scholarship he has overboard (hardly noticeable, really) and sinks to new lows of intellectual buffoonery.

In this case he is responding to my discussion of the evolutionary tree of life – the fact that the fossil record and genetic evidence support the conclusion that all life is related through a pattern of branching descent. He refers to my summary of the current consensus of scientific opinion as an “astonishing gaffe.”

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105 responses so far

Jan 15 2009

I’ll be on NPR

Published by under Uncategorized

Quick note for those who are interested, I will be interviewed on NPR Friday morning 9:30-10:30 Eastern time. The topic will be about dualism and the evolution of human consciousness. They tell me that Michael Egnor may also be on – should be interesting.


The interview went well, it was a 1 on 1 for about an hour. It was being recorded for future broadcast. I was told it will come out around Darwin’s birthday (Feb 12th) either on Morning Edition or All Things Considered.

As soon as they let me know exactly when I will post another update.

Urgent Update:

This is actually unrelated, but I was asked to be on JPR, a local Oregon NPR affiliate, right now!!!.

That is – 12:00-1:00pm Eastern Today.

You can stream live from here: (go to The Jefferson Exchange under News). Here is the link to the show description:

Download the podcast here (  – my interview is the second hour.


109 responses so far

Jan 15 2009

Sorry, Egnor, Your Pillars Are Still Shattered

Published by under Uncategorized

Michael Egnor, the creationist neurosurgeon who blogs over at the Discovery Institute, has been a busy beaver lately. He has written several entries on his side of the materialism vs dualism debate we’ve been having. I have been reading them, waiting for him to say something new I need to respond to, but mostly he is just reiterating the same points I have already refuted. Putting an old argument in a new form, or citing a new source, does not change the argument nor is it a response to refutation.

But now he has specifically responded to my previous post on the topic (although still not really addressing my points), and so a response from me is in order.

In a post titled, “It’s Time for Me to Unshatter My “Three Pillars of Neuroscience Denial,” Egnor tried and failed to refute my summary of his core logical fallacies.

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75 responses so far

Dec 12 2008

More Neuroscience Denial

Published by under Uncategorized

Dr. Michael Egnor has written two more posts reiterating his neuroscience denial over at the Discovery institute. This reinforces the impression that neuroscience denial is the “new creationism” – the new battleground against materialism as a basis for modern science. It is important to keep an eye on the arguments and tactics being developed by the DI to deny the core claim of neuroscience, that the mind is what the brain does. This is likely to be an increasing area of attention for the DI and others with an anti-scientific agenda.

Intellectual Dishonesty

Creationists are intellectually dishonest because they are not engaged in a genuine search for understanding, but rather have staked out an ideological position that they will defend at all costs. This applies as well to Dr. Egnor, who is ideologically dedicated to denying the obvious conclusion from the last century of neuroscience – that the brain causes mind.

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72 responses so far

Oct 28 2008

More on Methodological Naturalism

Published by under Uncategorized

My posts from last Thursday and Friday on materialism sparked an unusual amount of activity in the comments, which is always great. There is much great discussion and links to further reading. But I feel I did not make my position clear enough, and a longer clarification than is appropriate for the comments is needed.

Much of the confusion and disagreement seems to revolve around definitions – it is difficult to find common ground when people are using different specific definitions for the same words. This is a common problem in philosophy, which seems to multiple terms with subtle distinctions, and has been further magnified by the fact that I was partly confronting how other people (like ID proponents) are using terms, vs how philosophers define them, vs how the public perceives them. Confusion ensued.

Although this is probably obvious, I want to say for the record that I am not a philosopher. I am a scientist trying to understand philosophy as it pertains to science and skepticism. This probably causes as many problems as philosophers who are not scientists trying to understand the philosophy of science.

So as I crawl back through this discussion of methodological naturalism and materialism I will try to be careful about defining terms and in which context.

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70 responses so far

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